The nostalgia lives on: Maritimers still love the old-school feel and freedom of going to a drive-in theatre


ST. JOHN’S, NL — The first movie I ever saw was Benji at the Kingsway Drive-In Theater in Montague, PEI around 1980.

We were country kids and had never been to a movie before. I recall my mom packing snacks and a pitcher of Kool-Aid. In the excitement of getting ready to leave, my younger brother accidently put the car into gear and we started coasting down the lane, seemingly in a rush to get to our first ever big screen movie.

There are plenty of fond memories of drive-in theaters to be found all over Atlantic Canada.


The Cape Breton Drive-In Theater is now offering moviegoers the choice of two screens.  The popular Grand Lake Road entertainment venue has acquired an inflatable screen, far right, that will allow the outdoor theater the option of showing two movies at the same time.  DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST - David Jala
The Cape Breton Drive-In Theater is now offering moviegoers the choice of two screens. The popular Grand Lake Road entertainment venue has acquired an inflatable screen, far right, that will allow the outdoor theater the option of showing two movies at the same time. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST – David Jala

The Starlite

For Mabel Crüe of Summerside, PEI, going to a drive-in theater was a way of life while growing up. That’s because her father owned a drive-in theatre.

Crüe’s father, Lloyd W. Ellis, opened the Starlite Drive-In on Water Street East in Summerside in 1950.

“The Starlite was the first 35mm drive-in theater in the Maritimes, with very large speakers on the top of the screen and later had speakers to hang on your car window,” said Crüe.

The first movie she ever saw at the drive-in was The Story of Sea Biscuit, which came out in 1949.

“It was a family business and our dad was wonderful to work with. It was so exciting to have it all happening in our back field.”


The Starlite Drive-In's first neon sign in 1956. The facility in Summerside, PEI was the first 35-mm drive-in theater in the Maritimes.  Contributed photo - Contributed photo
The Starlite Drive-In’s first neon sign in 1956. The facility in Summerside, PEI was the first 35-mm drive-in theater in the Maritimes. Contributed photo – Contributed photo

Her father screened mostly family movies, so it was often a good night out. There was no need of a babysitter and there was a canteen service.

Crüe said that her family still all love to go to a drive-in theatre.

“It feels like home.”

Her father sold the Starlite Drive-In Theater in 1978.


Lloyd W. Ellis, opened The Starlite Drive-In on Water Street East in Summerside, PEI in 1950. Contributed photo - Contributed photo
Lloyd W. Ellis, opened The Starlite Drive-In on Water Street East in Summerside, PEI in 1950. Contributed photo – Contributed photo

first date

Rita and Malcolm MacLean of Little Sands, PEI, had their first date at a drive-in theatre.

Rita was a long-time lover of drive-in movies before that life-changing occasion.

“As older teenagers, we used to get three to four cars lined up side-by-side, enjoy the movie and hopped from car to car for visits,” recalled MacLean.

When asked about the first movie she saw, MacLean said “I remember seeing The China Syndrome with my aunt and uncle. I also remember seeing The Jerk with Steve Martin. They were both released in 1979, I think.”


Rita and Malcolm MacLean of Little Sands, PEI, had their first date at a drive-in theatre, the Kingsway Drive-in at Poole's Corner in Montague.  Contributed photo - Contributed photo
Rita and Malcolm MacLean of Little Sands, PEI, had their first date at a drive-in theatre, the Kingsway Drive-in at Poole’s Corner in Montague. Contributed photo – Contributed photo

It was on July 27, 1987 that she and now-husband Malcolm went on their first date.

It was at the Kingsway Drive-in at Poole’s Corner in Montague.

“I am pretty sure one movie was Spaceballs, but cannot remember the other one,” she said. “I think I love the fact that they are part of history that we can still experience today.”

MacLean said it was also nice to have privacy as there was no way to watch really good movies at home at that time.

“You could talk and critique parts during the movie — not like in a theatre! Such as … ‘that was so gross!’ “Man, what a hunk!” “No — don’t open that door,” she commented.

The MacLeans still try to go to the Brackley Drive-In on PEI at least once a year and they have taken their kids many times.

“We went to watch the Transformers movie and, while there, had to help someone boost their car because of a dead battery,” she said. “I guess our engine bonnet did not get closed tightly. So, on our way home, it blew up onto the windshield. It scared us and we were all okay, but we felt like we might be transforming like Optimus Prime!”

Feeling of adventure

Krista Blaikie Hughes of Fall River, Nova Scotia has loved going to the drive-in for as long as she can remember.

“The venue in Hilden, Nova Scotia that I remember from my childhood is long gone,” she noted. “I’ve been going to the one in Cambridge, Nova Scotia in the Annapolis Valley since I was in university at Acadia. More recently, we’ve started going to the Westville, Nova Scotia venue with our kids.

Hughes and her husband are fortunate to have two drive-ins within 90 minutes of their house, “so it’s a fun summer evening out,” she said.

Part of the allure for Hughes is the nostalgia.

“Remembering back to when as kids we’d wear our pajamas, curl up in the backseat with blankets and pillows and have snacks while we watched the movie,” she continued. “Decades later, it’s still relatively the same low-tech experience.


Krista Blaikie Hughes of Fall River, NS, with her daughters Sarah and Grace, at their most recent drive-in adventure this summer.  Contributed photo - Contributed photo
Krista Blaikie Hughes of Fall River, NS, with her daughters Sarah and Grace, at their most recent drive-in adventure this summer. Contributed photo – Contributed photo

“There’s a certain feeling of adventure to watching movies outdoors and it’s become a beloved part of our family’s summer traditions.”

It’s a tradition she and her husband now are grateful to share with their children.

“My kids love the drive-in movie experience,” said Hughes.

The Hughes’ have been taking their children, Grace, 10, and Sarah, 14, to the drive-in since they were very young.

“We try and go at least once every year,” she said. “We usually only make it through one movie though as it’s still fairly late by the time the first movie ends.”


“There’s a certain feeling of adventure to watching movies outdoors and it’s become a beloved part of our family’s summer traditions.”
— Krista Blaikie Hughes


Grace, she added, started going as an infant and would typically fall asleep before the movie even started.

“She stays awake for the whole movie now,” said Hughes. “Her favorite part is being able to play at the playground (up by the big screen) until the movie starts.”

Sarah, meanwhile, enjoys the flexibility and comfort of watching the movie in their own vehicle.

“As a young child, her favorite place to sit was on the center armrest between the two front seats,” said her mom.

While movie popcorn from the concession stand is always a requirement, Sarah also likes that she can bring her own snacks with her, added Hughes.

Like Rita MacLean, part of the attraction for Hughes “is being able to talk and ask questions during the movie because she won’t disturb the other viewers in their vehicles.”


Grace Hughes of Fall River, NS with a huge tub of popcorn at one of her earlier drive-in adventures around 2014. Contributed photo - Contributed photo
Grace Hughes of Fall River, NS with a huge tub of popcorn at one of her earlier drive-in adventures around 2014. Contributed photo – Contributed photo

An affordable outing

Hughes pointed out that a drive-in movie is still a relatively low-cost form of entertainment.

“There aren’t many places that you can take four or five people for under $40 these days,” she noted.

It was also an affordable night out back in her university days at Acadia too.

“We would pack the car with friends and take in the double feature,” she reminisced. “Now, we typically buy the concession stand snacks, but, for those who bring their own with them, that would certainly cut down on the cost.”

Hughes added that on her girls’ bucket list of drive-in movie to do’s is to take a pickup truck so that they can sit in the back of the truck to watch the show.

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